To many, comic books and graphic novels are virtually the same thing and it’s easy to see their point. Both feature beautifully illustrated fantasy and long, drawn-out stories with well-rounded characters. One initial difference is the formation of the two; comic books tend to be older and traditional, put together with staples as opposed to being associated with pristine layouts, bound like books.
Storytelling & Narrative
Comics will tell simple, straightforward narratives, laid out in a continuous and serialised format. Light comedy (naturally implied by the term ‘comic’) is used as well as certain adventure/action conventions to give the story an injection of entertainment. Comics will likely be telling a story over a number of issues or just include a mini-story, one of many.
With graphic novels, the plot and thematic devices used tend to be stricter and intended for a more mature audience. It’s a lengthy, fluid and often unique measure of telling stories, featuring vivid imagery and darker themes. As it closely resembles an average book, it’s often more expensive and the page count can run for as long as the story requires it to.
Themes and Target Audience
As mentioned, comics are usually light-hearted and shorter reads, perfect for a younger audience or those wishing for a quick and easy source of entertainment. In contrast to this, graphic novels are dark (the recent influx of novels adapted for the screen include movies such as Kick Ass and TV shows such as The Walking Dead, both very liberal in the graphic violence they portray) and are certainly intended for an older audience.
Whilst it’s true that comics don’t freely depict themes relating to sex, violence and drugs, they do tend to throw in motifs that appeal to an older audience, featuring heroes fighting evil (usually an amusing, exaggerated villain) yet there is a clearly defined line between what is featured within a comic and a graphic novel.
Current Social Views
Comics, nowadays, are viewed as a childish form of art, excellent for a quick read but nothing more. Darker and more mature novels, however, are seen as a rising example of high-culture, an elaborate medium which is gathering more and more momentum. A strong, recent example of this is the inclusion of popular comic book characters such as Batman in many novels on sale today.